New Delhi (Agencies): Taking cognisance of the biggest scam hitting the country, the Government has appointed a high-powered committee to review various aspects of the controversial deal between ISRO's commercial arm Antrix and a private company for lease of scarce S-band spectrum in 2005.

The two-member Committee, headed by former Cabinet Secretary and Member, Planning Commission B K Chaturvedi, has been asked to review the technical, commercial, procedural and financial aspects of the agreement between Antrix and Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd.

It will also review the adequacy of procedures and approval processes followed by Antrix, ISRO and Department of Space, and suggest improvements and changes and submit a report within a month.

Noted aerospace expert Roddam Narsimha, Member, Space Commission is the other member of the committee.

The Terms of Reference also tasks the committee to fix responsibility for lapses with regard to the agreement, which media reports claimed could have caused loss of Rs two lakh crore to the national exchequer.

A number of Union Ministers sought to know details about the deal at the meeting of the Cabinet today. The Prime Minister asked K Radhakrishnan, Secretary, Department of Space, to brief the ministers on the deal.

After a brief discussion on the issue, the Prime Minister told the Cabinet that he has already set up a committee and sought a report on the matter within a month. At this stage, it was decided to wait till the committee submits its report.

When pointed out that Chaturvedi was Cabinet Secretary when the deal was signed, I&B Minister Ambika Soni said she was not in a position to comment but added that "he would know how and why it happened".

Chaturvedi also dismissed as "bunkum" suggestions that he would not be able to give a fair report as he was Cabinet Secretary when the deal was signed.

ISRO issued an official note on the entire matter to clarify that the Government had taken no decision to allocate space segment using S-band spectrum to Antrix or Devas.

The note also included opinion of the Law Ministry that the deal with Devas be annulled.

The Law Ministry opinion also made it clear that ISRO was not duty bound to provide orbit slot to Antrix for commercial activities, especially when there were strategic requirements to be met.

However, it said as per the agreement, Antrix will have to reimburse Devas all the upfront capacity reservation fees and corresponding service taxes it had received till the date of annulment.

Devas has so far made a payment of Rs 58.37 crore as upfront reservation fee for two satellites -- GSAT 6 and GSAT 6A.

As per the note, the Space Commission has recommended a review and restructuring of the working of Antrix in the wake of the controversial deal.

Media reports had stated that the Department of Space had allocated 70 MHz of S-Band spectrum to Devas Multimedia for Rs 1,000 crore.

The Prime Minister's Office had denied reports, saying no decision has been taken and hence charges of revenue loss were without any basis.

ISRO chief K Radhakrishnan, at a press conference on Tuesday, had admitted that details about contract that gave Devas rights to 90 per cent usage of transponders on two satellites were not shared with the Space Commission or the Union Cabinet.

Devas reaction

Devas Multimedia had all appropriate approvals from the government for its business and it still has the legally binding agreement with Antrix Corporation as a proof, claimed Devas president and CEO Ramachandran Viswanathan.

"Devas has fulfilled all of its obligations …and now awaits the delivery of the contracted space segment capacity, which is more than two years delayed per the agreement," he said in a statement.

He said further Devas had proceeded with the project after required consents and approvals were obtained within the Government, culminating with Space Commission and Union Cabinet, and the same were confirmed by Antrix in February 2006.

"All foreign direct investment into Devas has also been with due FIPB approvals and in full compliance with government regulations," he added.

Devas has developed technologies that are important for the delivery of advanced services, including societal, strategic and commercial applications, through ISRO's GSAT 6 and 6A satellites, the president said adding that the association of former ISRO officials with Devas was in full compliance with the government rules.

BJP doubts Govt panel

Demanding immediate termination of Antrix-Devas deal for scarce S-band spectrum, the Bharatiya Janata Party  (BJP) raised doubts on the committee appointed by the Government to review the deal. 

The Opposition party asked how a high-powered panel headed by former Cabinet Secretary B K Chaturvedi could probe the issue when he himself was among those who had approved it in 2005.

"The deal should be cancelled immediately. Various government departments had raised questions on the agreement. It had been seven months now that government was aware of the issue," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters.

In reply to a question, she said her party is not being unreasonable in demanding an immediate cancellation of the deal as the matter was before the government for the past
seven months.

On the appointment of Chaturvedi as head of the panel, she said, "Is it right if decisions taken by some people are investigated by the same people?"

She claimed that Chaturvedi as Cabinet Secretary was one of those who had approved the agreement between ISRO's commercial arm Antrix and Devas Multimedia.

Sitharaman said the BJP was "very worried" that every decision the government was taking to answer allegations was turning out to be an attempt to "cover up".